What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is cancer in the breast. Tissues in the breast, usually the ducts (tubes that carry milk to the nipple) and lobules (glands that make milk) form irregular cells.
The earlier breast cancer is found, the more successful the treatment will be. The American Cancer Society recommends that women 30 and older should perform breast self-examinations monthly. They also recommend that women between the ages of 20 and 39 should have a physical examination of the breast every 3 years performed by a health care professional. Finally, women over 40 should have this exam every year and should also have a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) annually.
Breast exams at home are very important for detecting or feeling your breasts for lumps and pain. Self-exams can be done while bathing or taking a shower. It only takes a few minutes. The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump. Other signs of breast cancer include the following: swelling of the breast, skin irritation, nipple discharge, redness, and a lump in the underarm/armpit areas. If you have any of these symptoms, please contact a medical doctor immediately.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix. Cancer of the cervix occurs in the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb) of a woman. A procedure called the Pap test detects early cervical cancer cells. This procedure has helped save the lives of many women. Cervical cancer is caused by a virus called the Human Papillomas Virus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus. Many women are infected with this virus, but not all infected cases will turn into cervical cancer.
The Pap Test
A Pap test is a procedure where a doctor scrapes the inside of the cervix and collects cells for testing. This only takes a few minutes. The cells are then studied for any changes or possible pre-cancerous. If the Pap test comes back abnormal, the doctor will advise further testing.
Every woman should begin having a Pap test when she becomes sexually active or if not, when she turns 21 years old. You can request a female doctor to give you the Pap test. A female doctor may help make this experience more comfortable
If cancerous cells are found in the cervix, your doctor can offer you several treatment options. The earlier the cancer cells are detected, the more successful the treatment.
If you would like to schedule an appointment for your yearly physical where your doctor checks to see if you are healthy or if you would like to schedule an appointment for your Pap test or mammogram, you can call your clinic and schedule an appointment. If you do not have health insurance, there are programs that will help you cover the cost for this very important appointment. If you would like more information about these free programs or have questions about breast and cervical cancer screening, you can call the MDH Sage Program at 651-556-0687. If you do not have a clinic or doctor you can also call the Community Health Coordinator at the Karen Organization of Minnesota for support and to assist you to schedule these important appointments at 651-788-7593.
This article was contributed by Karen Organization of Minnesota’s Health Education Program. Special thanks to the Minnesota Department of Health Cancer Control Section for contributing to this article.